This is how to change your phone settings to stop Google tracking your movements

By Claire Schofield
Friday, 16 August, 2019, 09:46
Google knows your exact location, even when location history tracking is turned off (Photo: Shutterstock)

It has been revealed that Google can access a device's location, even when users have turned location tracking off.

A report from the Associated Press suggests the issue could affect up to two billion Android and Apple devices, which use Google for maps or search.

The study, verified by researchers at Princeton University, found that users' whereabouts are still being recorded, despite people disabling their location history - but is it possible to stop Google spying completely?

What does Google record?

Even though turning off location tracking on your device explicitly tells Google not to record your movements, data is still collected in the form of:

A stored snapshot of where you are when you open the Maps appAutomatic weather updates on Android phones which pinpoint roughly where a user isSearches that have nothing to do with location which pinpoint precise longitude and latitude of users

Even with your phone's location history paused, some Google apps will automatically store time-stamped location data without permission.

Google stores a snapshot of where you are when you open the Maps app (Photo: Shutterstock)

These location markers can be deleted by hand, but this is a lengthy process since they have to be selected individually, unless you delete all of your stored activity.

Users can view their stored location markers on their Google account at myactivity.google.com, although they can be tricky to find as they are typically intermingled with a host of other information.

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Sneaky data gathering

According to the report, the location data gathered is accurate to the square foot and is a result of Google's Web and App Activity, which is turned on by default for Google products.

Google insists it provides clear descriptions of its tools and how to turn them off.

"There are a number of different ways that Google may use location to improve people's experience, including: Location History, Web and Web Activity, and through device-level Location Services," said a spokesperson for the company.

"We provide clear descriptions of these tools and robust controls so people can turn them on or off, and delete their histories at any time."

Users need to turn off 'Web and App Activity' in settings to prevent Google saving location markers (Photo: Google)

How to stop Google tracking

Despite not being particularly straightforward, it is possible to stop Google from tracking your movements completely.

To prevent Google saving location markers, users need to turn off another setting called 'Web and App Activity'.

While the setting does not specifically reference location information, it is enabled by default and stores a variety of information from Google apps and websites on your Google account.

When disabled, it prevents information generated from searches and other activity from being stored.

Turning off 'Location History' will only prevent Google from adding your movements to the 'timeline' (its visualisation of your daily travels), but it doesn't stop other location markers from being collected.